Feature Article - May 2015
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Finding Synergy

Collaborating & Combining Functions in Multipurpose Designs

By Rick Dandes

Here are some of the directions that Carusi is seeing in design:

  • More space for gathering and connecting: Recent research points to community connectivity as one of the factors influencing people's overall health and wellness. YMCA clients, in particular, are interested in making sure that their centers not only provide space for active programming, but also comfortable gathering areas for members to meet and connect in an informal or serendipitous context.
  • Visual and physical links to the outdoors: As the public becomes more aware of how the built environment affects our health, Carusi explained, "our clients have asked that we respond with designs that blend the indoors and outdoors. This blending might take the form of giving access to exterior views even in spaces that are traditionally less open, such as gymnasiums, or access to the outdoors might be in more direct form such as the provision an exterior deck for yoga or other activities or development of an exterior vegetable garden."
  • More attention to an inviting environment: For member-driven organizations like the YMCA, amenities and finishes provided used to be fairly basic. Now, they are recognizing that good design and nicer finishes can drive membership numbers up. Customers are looking for environments that are less institutional and more sophisticated, Carusi noted. An example of this trend is the direction toward a more spa-like environment in locker rooms.
  • Do more with less: Municipalities don't want to see rooms sitting empty for hours every day and are looking for ways to make more spaces multipurpose in function. "Examples in flexibility," Carusi said, "include community rooms that can double as meeting space or exercise studios. Another strategy we've incorporated is to allow spaces for child and youth programs to expand and contract with operable glass wall systems the can enlarge or close down space as the need for child focused area changes during the day."

Increasingly, architects are understanding the inextricable link between design and wellness. This is seen in questions such as: Is the building made of healthy materials? Is the air clean and the humidity level appropriate for the activity? Does the space connect to nature? Are spaces quiet when one wants silence and acoustically lively when one wants to be energized? Is taking the stairs an easy, inviting experience, rather than taking an elevator to the Stairmaster? Is there ready access to clean, filtered water? Are healthy snacks available? Does the design of the building contribute to improving the health of the planet?

"We work closely with our clients to understand the impact our buildings have on the natural environment, as well as the impact they have on the health of inhabitants," Nelson said.

Isn't it ironic, then, that "a trend that we haven't seen yet as much as we expected to, but will someday see, is more and more healthcare providers coming into the mix," according to Stephen Springs, senior principal, Brinkley Sargent Wiginton Architects, of Dallas. "That is happening to some extent, but I think the uncertainty in the healthcare delivery process over the last several years has probably hindered the growth of that as a trend. A recreation center seems like a perfect place to have programs on nutrition and rehab and wellness."

It makes too much sense for it not to happen, Springs continued. "Having a small clinical storefront at a recreation center, using it as a rehab center, maybe as an attachment to a rec center, makes a lot of sense. There is a lot of natural synergy there, I believe. We're even seeing the healthcare industry providing sponsorship in some recreation centers."

Curiously, said several designers, going green is no longer a highest priority. "Of course," he said, "everyone wants an energy-efficient building. But the idea of having a plaque on the wall announcing you are green is not something of upmost interest to many of our clients."